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Massive U.S. defense bill pushes back against China; includes $2.2B for Pacific Deterrence Initiative

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / MARCH 14, 2019 Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., left, and Ranking Member Jack Reed, D-R.I., confer before a hearing on the Pentagon budget, on Capitol Hill in March 2019.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS / MARCH 14, 2019

    Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., left, and Ranking Member Jack Reed, D-R.I., confer before a hearing on the Pentagon budget, on Capitol Hill in March 2019.

A $740.5 billion defense policy bill agreed to by the Senate and House Armed Services Committees “pushes back on Chinese aggression” by establishing the Pacific Deterrence Initiative with $2.2 billion in funding, according to a summary of the legislation.

“Just as Congress has done for the last 59 years in a row, we have reached a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021,” U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Thursday.

“This conference agreement fulfills our most important constitutional duty: to provide for the security of this nation and the men and women who lay their lives on the line to defend it,” the lawmakers said.

The measure is expected to head to full House and Senate approvals next week.

The provision authorizes more than $135 million above the president’s original budget request for efforts including the Army’s Multi-Domain Task Force deployment to the Pacific, which focuses on integrating sensor and attack capabilities across all service branches. The extra funding also is targeted to the Joint Task Force Indo-Pacific.

A total of $9.1 billion is provided to procure 93 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft — an additional 14 aircraft above the president’s budget request, “equipping our forces with the most advanced and capable” stealth aircraft.

The agreement authorizes procurement of nine total battle force ships, including a second Virginia-class submarine for 2021, one additional Expeditionary Fast Transport and provides multi-ship contract authority for up to two Columbia-class submarines, three San Antonio-class amphibious ships, and one America-class amphibious ship.

In an indication of the Army’s shift toward becoming a ground-based offensive and defensive missile force, the measure supports long-range capabilities for the service including the Precision Strike Missile, hyper-velocity projectiles and high-energy lasers.

In addition to establishing the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, the conference report also includes “numerous provisions” to deter what lawmakers call China’s “malign behavior,” including creating mechanisms to restrict employees or former employees of the defense industrial base from working directly for companies wholly owned by, or under the direction of, the government of the People’s Republic of China.

It also directs the president to create a “whole-of-government” strategy to impose costs on China to deter industrial espionage and the large-scale theft of personal information by that nation.

Last spring, U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry from Texas, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, added to a growing call to improve military capability in the Pacific to check China and Russia by proposing legislation chartering an Indo-Pacific Deterrence Initiative.

“Senior officials from both parties, military commanders and international security experts have told us for years that the Indo-Pacific must be this country’s priority theater. They are absolutely correct, and it is time to put our money where our mouth is, ” Thornberry said at the time.

The step came after Adm. Phil Davidson, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command at Camp H.M. Smith, submitted a $20 billion request to Congress for added defense improvements through 2026.

“Without a valid and convincing conventional deterrent, China and Russia will be emboldened to take action in the region to supplant U.S. interests, ” said Davidson’s “Regain the Advantage” report. The cost was pegged at 80% of that being spent on a similar European Deterrence Initiative, according to Indo-Pacific Command.

The conference report also requires that not later than March 1, the secretary of defense will submit to the defense committees a report on a proposal for a “layered homeland missile defense architecture” that includes a new mainly ship-based missile — the SM-3 Block IIA that was recently successfully tested against an intercontinental ballistic missile target — and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System.

Hawaii is expected to eventually be defended against North Korean threats by SM-3 IIA interceptors — in addition to receiving protection from big ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California.

“This year’s NDAA will strengthen our national defense now and for years to come. The conference agreement accelerates implementation of the National Defense Strategy, ensuring we not only have the best planes, ships, and tanks, but that our forces are in the right places, at the right time, with the right capabilities,” Inhofe and Reed said.

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